"You don't have to be famous for your life to be history": The Dusenbery Journal and img2xml

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Natasha Smith

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  2. 2. Hugh Cayless

    New York University

Work text
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This poster presentation will describe a project
currently underway under the auspices of
the Documenting the American South digital
publishing program. It has been funded by
grants from the US National Endowment for
the Humanities (Digital Humanities Start-Up
Grants program) and UNC Chapel Hill. The
project is centered around the journal of a
19th century student at UNC named James
Dusenbery and aims to use innovative web-
based technology to present the journal and
to create modules of supplementary material
around it to provide insight into Dusenbery's
1. Background
The journal that forms the basis of our project
was written by James Lawrence Dusenbery
(1821-86) during the 1841-42 academic year.
Dusenbery, the son of Lydia Davis (1797-1857)
and planter Henry Rounsaville Dusenbery
(1794-1852) of Lexington, North Carolina,
entered the University of North Carolina (UNC)
in 1839. Sometime before graduating, he began
copying out poems and lyrics to popular songs
that he admired, and in July 1841 he began
“Records of My Senior Year at the University
of North Carolina,” a series of 44 weekly
entries describing his activities as a University
student. He graduated in 1842, received his MD
from the University of Pennsylvania's Medical
Department in 1845, and returned to Lexington
to practice medicine. During the Civil War, he
served with the Fourteenth Battalion, Rowan
County Home Guard. Though he survived the
conflict, three brothers, two brothers-in-law,
and a niece died during the war years. After the
war Dusenbery resumed his medical practice in
Lexington and served as a UNC trustee from
1874 until 1877. He died on 24 February 1886
and was buried in the Lexington City Cemetery.
He never married.
Dusenbery's journal, the centerpiece of this
new digital collection, provides multiple
opportunities to extend his text by creating
a multimedia scholarly apparatus that, when
combined with an array of interpretive essays,
will illuminate the academic, social, political,
economic, and religious forces that shaped his
world. Though Dusenbery was not “famous”
in the ways that our culture assigns such
prominence, like many students today he
enjoyed his senior year in college. He
appreciated his friends; enjoyed sports, music,
and dance; and despite an active social life,
completed his studies successfully and spent
his life as a physician in Lexington, North
Carolina. The journal is a valuable source of
information for those interested in antebellum
culture, antebellum literary life, and the day-to-
day events that ordinarily fall through the cracks
of history. Edward L. Ayers, southern historian
and one of the pioneers of digital libraries,
points out that new forms of digitization and
spatial display enable scholars and students
alike to “see things that are invisible otherwise”.
The Dusenbery Journal's multimedia apparatus
will allow users to both see and hear a slice of
American history. All of the materials included
on the site will be accompanied by scholarly
annotations, biographies, and essays that will
provide an analytical framework for the project
and forge connections between the disparate
materials (and disciplines) represented. When it
is completed, The Dusenbery Journal will be a
fully realized, searchable, multimedia, scholarly
edition consisting of manuscript materials,
images, songs, artifacts, maps, newspaper
clippings, court and judicial documents, and
important related resources pulled together
from a variety of repositories, especially the
University Library's special collections; the
North Carolina State Archives; North Carolina
public libraries; and the private collection of a
family descendant, Colonel William B. Hankins,
Jr. The scholarly apparatus for Dusenbery's
journal will be accessible to users by means
of links within the edited text and through

various indexes for personal names, places,
publications, images, topics, events, dates,
organizations, genres, and authors.
2. Technology
Digital images of the pages of the journal have
been captured, and the text has been marked up
in TEI P5 XML. The handwritten text has been
traced and output in a Scaleable Vector Graphics
(SVG) format. SVG is itself an XML format,
which means structures (i.e. lines, words, and
letters) in the image can be linked to lines and
notes in the transcribed text. Open Source web
mapping software (OpenLayers) is being used to
provide zoomable overlays of the SVG and raster
image for each page. The result is an interface
in which each line of text in the transcription is
linked to a line of written text on the page image.
The page image and transcription are displayed
side-by-side, and OpenLayers provides zoom
and pan features for the image.
The img2xml system models tracings of
manuscript text as Shapes: the SVG paths
and bounding boxes; Regions: bounded spaces
containing text; and Structures: the overlap of
one or more shapes with a Region. Structures
can be mapped to elements in a transcription or
to annotations.
Since SVG is an XML-based format, it can be
manipulated in a web browser using standard
Javascript techniques. The final project is
available at
The digital environment has the power to
contextualize and fully document this ordinary
life, proving, as Nell Sigmon put it, “You
don't have to be famous for your life to be
In that, we fully realize one of the most
distinguishing features of electronic editions -
“their capaciousness: scholars are no longer
limited by what they can fit on a page or
afford to produce within the economics of print
Burnard, Lou, Bauman, Syb (eds.)
(November 8, 2009).
TEI P5: Guidelines for
Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange.
Cayless, Hugh
(2008). 'Experiments
in Automated Linking of TEI
Transcripts to Manuscript Images'.
Member's Meeting.
London, November
Cayless, Hugh
(2009). 'Image as Markup:
Adding Semantics to Manuscript Images'.
University of Maryland, USA, 22-25 June
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 November 2006: 33
Jacqueline Dowd Hall, interview with Nell Putnam Sigmon,
13 December 1979 (H-143), Southern Oral History Program
Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Price, Kenneth (2008). "Electronic Scholarly Editions," in A
Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Susan Schreibman
and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (still needs to be added)

Conference website: http://dh2010.cch.kcl.ac.uk/

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None